Farinelli and the King, at the Belasco Theatre features Mark Rylance, who has won an Oscar and three Tony awards, so we know the acting will be superb. Playwright Claire Van Kempen, Rylance’s wife, wrote it as a showcase for him as the 18th century Spanish king Philip V. The show comes to Broadway after sold-out performances at the Royal Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s West End.
It’s based on the true story of Philip V, who was plagued with bouts of mental illness, probably depression. His queen, Isabella (Melody Gove), heard the opera singer Farinelli, a castrato, in England, and decided to invite him to Spain in the hope of helping her husband deal with his depression. He and Philip develop an enduring relationship, as the singer’s voice and friendship have a curative effect on the melancholy monarch.
Sam Crane plays Farinelli, while Iestyn Davies sings his vocal parts. John Dove’s excellent direction explores the nuances of the relationship between the singer and the king.
This two-hour production may not be for everyone, as there is not enough material to carry the story for that length—but it is worth seeing Mark Rylance give a tour de force performance.